Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Apocalypto's racism

Cultural anthropologist Liz Grandia's article lays out far better than I ever could the kind of heedless ignorance Gibson likes to brandish in his movies (it's the kind of ignorance that chooses Anne Catherine Emmerich's texts (if they really are her texts--there's doubt) over the Bible for a movie on Christ, or portrays Jews as demonic money-grubbing backstabbers who let the Romans do their dirty work for them).

This is not exactly a new trend; as far back as his Oscar-winning (and utterly ludicrous) Braveheart Gibson has had a blinkered, hateful view of the politically marginalized, not to mention a way of painting all over them with a broad brush--witness the way he slanders Prince Edward in the picture.

The praise for Gibson's talent is, frankly, puzzling--what's the difference between his style and, say, Eli Roth's in Hostel? If' it's graphic violence and body mutilation you want, Roth's movie shows that a few modern hardware items and an array of medical equipment will cause far more suffering and physical damage, and with far more reliability and precision, than was available to the Mayans, anytime.

Oh, he can hire good talent--Caleb Deschanel for Passion of the Christ, Dean Semler (the cinematographer of choice of George Miller in films like The Road Warrior, and Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome) for this project. Gibson can also pull off something halfway entertaining--the encounter with the jaguar comes to mind--but at his best he is a pale shadow of Miller, who was filmmaker enough to give the kineticism in his early works an epic, mythological feel, and never felt a need to dwell on the violence (you saw more cars being shredded in his postapocalyptic outbacks than human beings)--unlike Gibson, who often will (most notably in Passion of the Christ) indulge himself to the point of tedium (all right, all right, his back's hamburger meat--get on with it already).

More, Miller seems to have moved beyond mere action--he has kept his dark, larger-than-life filmmaking, and applied it to such diverse films as Lorenzo's Oil, Babe: Pig in the City, and Happy Feet (a for all its flaws far more ambitious, more imaginative, and more moving (not to mention more environmentally relevant and popular) film, I submit).

We're talking about an anti-Semitic, racially insensitive (to put it mildly), homophobic director, narrow in his range of interests (have I mentioned his Man Without a Face? More evidence of a persecution complex, mawkishly dramatized, plus Gibson expunges any and all hints of the main character's homosexuality from his adaptation), and rich enough to buy what semblance of filmmaking talent he has. A hack asshole, in short.

I'd have thought people would be smarter than to continue to buy this guy's bullshit (though apparently people still do). Give me wittier practitioners of the art of torture or violence, like Michael Haneke, or even the now-unpopular Kim Ki-Duk; at least they still know the value of creating horror in the mind, or of operating on the principle that less can at times be more (I'm thinking of the less-violent-than-you-remember Funny Games and the bizarrely beautiful The Isle, respectively), or at the very least of using a less sophomoric brand of humor (the Three Stooges Meet The Spicy Testicle joke that opens Apocalypto is more embarrassing than funny). The only principle Gibson seems to recognize is a kind of masturbatory sadomasochism--the more he feels bad, the more he wants you to suffer for it. Especially if you're not white.

(Which is about all I can say on the movie at the moment; I'll be moving house, and won't be able to post anything new till maybe next week)


Paul Martin said...

I personally liked Man Without A Face and Braveheart, though my taste in cinema has certainly matured in the several years since these films were made.

I confess to not seeing Passion of the Christ, for a number of reasons I won't go into at this point. Apocalypto has not been released in Australia yet. I had a media invite to it today, but decided I'd rather go to my work's Xmas lunch. I don't think I will see it at all.

I don't have a problem with violence in cinema per se (I love David Lynch's and David Cronenberg's depictions of violence, for example). However gratuitous or excessive violence disturbs me. So many critics have slammed this film for exactly this that I don't think I want to subject myself to it. Unless someone can convince me otherwise.

And Pan's Labrynth is another recent film that comes to mind that was otherwise very appealing. The unnecessary excessive and graphic violence greatly detracted from the film for me (especially the mouth-cutting scene).

Noel Vera said...

Gotcha, Paul. That's a good position to take, in my opine.

My situation's different, though. I love excessive violence; mouth cutting is basically an acceptable form of entertainment for me (De Palma with The Black Dahlia comes to mind). What I object to is what I consider mediocre, unimaginative violence, directed at dubious ends (slandering the Mayan civilization, for one; Jews, for another). My position is, if you're going to provoke intense feelings in an audience, shouldn't you be careful to do so in a more innovative, less racist way?

Paul Martin said...

Cinema is an art form that (when it works) totally absorbs me emotionally. The scene in Pan's Labrynth just freaked me out too much. Yet I was fine in the even more violent scene/s in Gaspar Noe's Irreversible because it seemed appropriate. I think it's a combination of things - context, originality, entertainment, artfulness - that make violence work for me. But when it's excessive, nasty and unnecessary (gratuitous), I have a problem with it. 8mm is another film that disgusted me with its gratuitous violence. It may not surprise you to know that I don't go to slasher flicks.

Noel Vera said...

Two things bothered me about 8mm: first, it's so hysterical--it presents the luridness of snuff films without trying to make the case that they realy exist (they don't); second, it makes a totally unnecessary swipe at the Philippines--we never had the rep for making snuff films, I don't think our sexuality ever went in that direction (the closest it did was in Peque Gallaga's Scorpio Nights--worth getting if you can, even without subtitles).

Oh, and third, it's low rent Tony Scott (and I despise Scott).

If I go to slasher flicks, it's usually for the mechanical aspect of it (the deconstructing, if you like, of the human body), and how the filmmaker might subvert the genre. In Gibson's case I don't see any subversion; hell I don't see any intellect developed enough to imagine the desire to subvert. It's just one long wankfest, to the tune of thudding blows and tearing flesh.

sophomorecritic said...

very neat post. i agree about mel gibson, check out my blog at sophomorecritic.blogspot.com

Noel Vera said...

Hi, okenheim, thanks. I can't seem to find your Apocalypto piece, tho. Is there a direct link?

Anonymous said...

Actually, you've said very little about the film here, just ranted about Mel Gibson.

And then let your extremism prompt you to make the rediculous claim of not seeing a difference between Apocalypto and Hostel?????????? You really can't see a difference in drama, story, creativity, talent, etc. between Hostel and Apocalypto.

There's plenty of critics who while saying they dislike things that Gibson has said and done were "MAN" enough - decent as human beings and professional as critics - to not let it affect their ability to see good things in Apocalypto and prevent idiotic remarks like yours.

I see ... not anti-semite, don't disagree with homosexuality - just pure asshole. nice job, "professional."

Noel Vera said...

Wow, a Mel Gibson fan. Never thought they were still around.

Actually, Hostel 2's not that bad--it has at least one fascinating image, that blood shower over Monica Malakova, and it does push the first movie's idea to its logical conclusion. Whereas Apocalypto wallows in Gibson's obsessions so thoroughly it doesn't even know when its head's up its ass. There's bad, and then there's terrible.

Anonymous said...

The movie was great, excellently directed and scripted. Stop with the bullshit and try to have an open mind..Really? Apocalypto was racist? Get a life people.

Noel Vera said...

Really? Apocalypto wasn't racist? Get a clue, peewee...

Anonymous said...

After reading your post, I think you just hate him.
Comparing Apocalypto with Hostel it's just too much.

Noel Vera said...

What? Not going far enough. I think Hostel's terrible because it resembles Apocalypto, only with less racism.

Unknown said...

How the fuck is it racist??
It's a film that protrays an oppresive regime comes in all race and creeds. That's historical FACT.
If Apocalypto is racist for showing a sobering fact of one's culture then so is Schindler's List for protraying all Germans as brutes.
Every race and religion (including atheism) has a brutal history. To show it is NOT racist!

Noel Vera said...

Uh--read the article. Gibson's view of the Aztecs is about as accurate as Springtime for Hitler.